Since 2014, starting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there have been many instances when members of the ruling party at the centre have aired absurd statements that would never stand scientific scrutiny. Unfortunately, the scientific community has maintained radio silence. The tide is finally turning.
On January 8, 2018, speaking during a programme at the Rajasthan University in Jaipur, the Rajasthan Education Minister Vasudev Devnani said Brahmagupta-II discovered the law of gravity a thousand years before Issac Newton.
“We all have studied that Newton gave the law of gravitation, but delving deeper, we can find that Brahmagupta-II came up with the theory of gravitation 1,000 years before (Newton). Why don’t we include this fact in the curriculum?” Devnani asked.
It was widely reported in the media and there was much furore in the social media. But the scientific community was conspicuous by its silence; there wasn’t even the slightest murmur of protest despite such rubbish being articulated by an education minister of a large State.
The scientific community’s silence shouldn’t come as a surprise, though. In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed that Karna and Ganesha were a testimony of ancient Indians’ mastery of reproductive genetics and cosmetic surgery thousands of years ago and well before the West could discover or use them. Not a single scientist challenged him.
“We can feel proud of what our country achieved in medical science at one point of time. We all read about Karna in the Mahabharata. If we think a little more, we realise that the Mahabharata says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time. That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb,” Modi said.
Modi then went on to say: “We worship Lord Ganesha. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery.”
The tide is turning
But the tide seems to be finally turning. Satyapal Singh Union minister of State for human resource development rubbishing Charles Darwin’s established theory of evolution and asking for science textbooks to be revised has at last truly rattled the scientific community. In a small way, there’s a welcome push back by the scientists.
On January 19, 2018, in Aurangabad, Satyapal Singh Union minister of state for human resource development challenged Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution when he said that Indian ancestors have not mentioned anywhere that they witnessed an ape turning into a man.
“Darwin’s theory [of evolution of humans] is scientifically wrong. It needs to change in school and college curriculum. Since the man is seen on Earth he has always been a man,” he said. “Nobody, including our ancestors, in written or oral, have said they saw an ape turning into a man. No books we have read or the tales told to us by our grandparents had such a mention.”
In response to what Satyapal Singh said, scientists have drafted a response and are planning to send the letter to the minister. As on January 21 (0030 hrs IST), a few hours since the letter was posted online, 208 scientists (including some students) have already signed the letter; the number of people signing it is increasing with every passing hour. The scientists want the minister to retract his statement.
The letter reads: “On Saturday 20th January 2018, several news outlets have reported your speech made in the city of Aurangabad on the previous day. You have been quoted saying, “Darwin’s theory of evolution is wrong. It has already been rejected by scientists some 30-35 years back. It is wrong to say that humans evolved from monkeys and such references should be removed from the science and history school textbooks.” The news report also included several other questionable statements attributed to you. However, for the purpose of this letter we would focus on this particular claim.
“We, the Scientists, science communicators and scientifically oriented members of public, are deeply pained by your claim. It is factually incorrect to state that the evolutionary principle has been rejected by the scientific community. On the contrary, every new discovery adds support to Darwin’s insights. One should also note that it is no longer merely a mechanism for organic evolution, but several other evolutionary phenomena in nature. Statements such as ‘humans did / did not evolve from monkeys’ is an overly simplistic and misleading representation of evolution. There is plentiful and undeniable scientific evidence to the fact that humans and the other great apes and monkeys had a common ancestor.
“You have also supposedly claimed that Vedas contain answers to all questions. Such an exaggerated claim cannot be substantiated with the evidence available and is an insult to the genuine research work on history of Indian scientific traditions. Vedic traditions through the Mimansa discipline, teach us ways of analysing Vedas through rationality and logical reasoning. Your claims are at odds with the very traditions you claim to uphold.
“When a minister working for Human Resource Development in the country makes such claims, it harms the scientific community’s efforts to propagate scientific thoughts and rationality through critical education and modern scientific research. It also diminishes the image of the country at the global level and reduces faith of the international historical research community in the genuine research by the Indian researchers.
“Therefore, we urge you to retract the reported speech at the All India Vedic Sammelan with immediate effect and issue a clarification about the Ministry’s policy towards teaching the theory of evolution.”
Stand up for Science
Whatever be the political leanings of individual scientists, this is one chance for them to come together for the sake of science. Scientists can either stand up and be taken seriously or stay silent and whine. Erosion of scientific temper has long started and has gained traction in the last few years. Silence is no longer an option.